Letter: There’s fewer police on the streets in New Forest today than in the 1940s.
I would like to respond to the front page article (A&T 29th Sep) about a retired police officer reporting he could not hand into the New Milton police station some drugs he had found and resorted to flush them down the toilet.
When the retired officer and I served at New Milton police station in the 1990s there was an inspector, five sergeants and 25 to 30 constables based there. A similar number were posted to Ringwood, Lymington, Hythe and Totton with other officers based in Lyndhurst and Fordingbridge. Following the government cuts to the police service in 2013, there are now, according to the Hampshire Constabulary website, one inspector, shared with Lymington, one sergeant, shared with Lymington, and four police constables based in New Milton, along with three PCSOs.
There is a response unit based in Lyndhurst that provides 24/7 coverage. Each shift puts out on average four or five police officers to cover the whole of the New Forest. If a police officer in New Milton makes an arrest, the nearest custody centre is in Southampton. If that facility is full the nearest custody centre is either Basingstoke or Portsmouth. Therefore an arrest means the officer is away from the town for the rest of his tour of duty. The response unit at Lyndhurst often runs short and has to call on the one or more of the towns to provide an officer from the local neighbourhood beat team to help fill their numbers. New Forest police officers are occasionally called on to work in other parts of the county instead of the Forest.
The numbers of police officers posted to our town to carry out policing in New Milton is less than was available in the 1940s. It is very easy to be critical of the few police officers we have, suggesting that they are never seen or don't respond to a reported crime, but in reality there are not enough police officers here to be a meaningful deterrent to local crime. The few police officers and PCSOs we have are doing the best that they can with extremely limited resources. They can react to crimes after they have taken place but the opportunity to be proactive and try to prevent crime is greatly reduced.
When the Police Federation warned in 2013 that “cuts have consequences” the then Home Secretary Theresa May said to them “don't cry wolf”.